Click for Coverage
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler
Subscribe to the Free
Newsletter
X

75 Years of Jeep Part 4 - Kaiser Years: Jeep Owns The Market

Posted in Features on March 16, 2016
Share this
Photographers: JP StaffCourtesy of the manufactures

Henry J. Kaiser was a big deal. With Joe Frazer, he started Kaiser-Frazer Motors in 1945. Frazer was well known in Detroit for his car business expertise and had played a pivotal role at Willys-Overland in the development of the jeep. Kaiser-Frazer started off hot but soon fell behind as the company took beating after beating from Detroit's Big Three. Up to the time he turned his attention to car manufacturing, everything he did in business had turned to gold. Henry J. was not happy.

Willys-Overland was in the same boat. On a roll after the war, they owned the utility market, but it was still small potatoes. To expand, they put everything on the line for the new ’52 Willys Aero cars but couldn't make much headway. Along came Kaiser with an offer that could save the day for both companies, and on April 28, 1953, Willys-Overland became Willys Motors, a part of Kaiser Industries. Despite the consolidation, both car lines hit bottom in 1955, killing the Kaiser Motor Company and leaving the Jeep standing tall but alone. That was a good thing. The utility market was trending up, and Willys Motors would be its cornerstone.

Meat and Taters: The CJ


The CJ underwent a sorely needed evolution for 1955, following the design of the ’52 military MD (M-38A1). It allowed for a roomy interior and a few more creature comforts. Shown here is a prototype CJ-5 from prior to the Kaiser deal, evidenced by the "Willys" nameplates versus the "Jeep" that was used in production.

There were enough differences in the ’64-on Tuxedo Park Mark IV models for Jeep to issue a separate parts addendum. They were offered in four colors: Whitecap White, President Red, Parkway Green, and Sierra Blue (shown). The interiors came with a 60/40 front bench seat with lots of padding, and the rear seat was extra plush. Four interior colors were offered: President Red, Nordic Blue, Sylvan Green, or black. Top colors matched with the addition of one in white.

In 1961, Jeep made a deal with Perkins in England for small diesels as an option in the CJ-line. The Perkins 4-192 (192 ci) made 62 hp at 3,000 rpm and 143 lb-ft of torque at 1,350 rpm. Performance was on par with the F-head gas four, but the diesel could deliver 30 mpg.

The Jeep Camper was available in 1969 and 1970 with a $2,868 base price. With all the options, you could get it up to $3,500 easily. A Jeep with the recommended options (V-6, 4.88:1 gears, drawbar, and heavy-duty springs) cost about $3,700 new, with the camper it was a total of $7,200 (about $46,000 in 2016 bucks). Was it really worth that? Only about 300 people thought so, and there lies the reason for its early demise.


With the cars gone, all the creative energy was focused on making new and better Jeeps. Introduction of a new CJ went into high gear, and in October 1954, the ’55 CJ-5 debuted. The ’56 CJ-6 appeared in August 1955. Both advanced the CJ more into the mainstream, and sales were reasonably hot.

The CJ evolved through the ’50s, but it wasn't the company's focus. As the Wagoneer project neared completion in the early ’60s, product planning released some development time for the CJ and along came the Tuxedo Park. Some have called this a lipstick-on-a-pig moment, but adding niceties to the CJ-line followed market trends. From its inception in ’61 and through ’63 models, the Tuxedo Park was offered as a trim package. This included a bit of exterior chrome, a 60/40-split bench seat with lots of padding, and a few other accoutrements. For the ’64s, the Tuxedo Park became a separate model called the Tuxedo Park Mark IV–model CJ-5A. A similarly equipped CJ-6A was also offered. These differed from the previous Tuxedo Park Mark 1 through III in having a special ride-tuned suspension, column-shift transmission, single-stick transfer case, and dual-servo brakes. Tuxedo Park production concluded early in 1968 with just less than 8,000 built.

At the same time the Tuxedo Park emerged, a diesel option was added to the CJ line in the form of Perkins 4-192. It's a little known or acknowledged benchmark that probably means more today than it did then. Available into 1969 in the CJ-5 or CJ-6, only about 3,000 CJs were built with this engine, many going overseas. A major benchmark for the CJ was the introduction of the 225ci Dauntless V-6 for 1966. It was the first time CJs were adequately, if not generously, powered. A final innovation for the Kaiser-Jeep CJ came in 1969 with the introduction of the Jeep camper. It coincided with a big recreational vehicle push by Jeep. AMC killed it immediately upon acquiring Jeep in 1970.

Ahead of Its Time: The Forward Control


This is the 18th FC-150 built, and under the skin it's pretty much a standard CJ-5. Right off they learned the CJ's 48.4-inch wheel track had stability issues with a cab-over, and the front Dana 25 was too weak. In May 1958, the track was widened to 57 inches, a Spicer 44 front axle replaced the Model 25, and the springs were moved outboard of the chassis. Because of the nose-heavy attitude, Jeep added a 275-pound weight at the rear-most crossmember. The F-head four was the only available engine in the FC-150, but you had the choice of a three-speed T-90 or four-speed T-98 transmission.

The FC-170 DRW came in an 8,000 or 9,000-pound GVWR, the difference being a three-speed or a four-speed transmission. A pickup body was not offered, and though Jeep had a factory stakebed, many DRWs were sold as a cab-and-chassis model. Though generally considered a "1-ton," it could actually be called a 1 1/4- or even a 1 1/2-ton. Standard power was the 226ci Super Hurricane. Production records show some 600 were built with Cerlist diesels for a commercial contract, but we don't know of any survivors.

Jeep was going to rule the world with the forward controls and had ideas out the wazoo. These come from 1958. None translated into production. Some were made into clay models, but only the top-most idea was prototyped into a runner.


The Kaiser/Willys merger led to a decade of very original thinking, such as the Forward Control Jeep. By moving the driving station to the front over the engine, a great deal of cargo space was created. This was nothing new in big trucks but doing so on an 81-inch wheelbase CJ-5 made a compact, highly maneuverable four-wheel-drive light pickup with a 6 1/2-foot bed. The FC-150 was introduced in December 1956 as a ’57 model. The 10-inch wheelbase FC-170—essentially a cabover Willys pickup with a 9-foot bed and a 1-ton rating—followed in April 1957.

In 1958, a DRW (Dual Rear Wheel) model with 8,000 or 9,000-pound GVWRs was produced and edged into 1 1/4 ton territory. Medium-duty prototypes in the 1 1/2-ton range were built, and Ford 292ci V-8 power was envisioned for production models. Sales of the FCs were never great, and while followed by similar rigs from other makers, production was discontinued early in 1965 after about 30,000 had been made.

Trendsetters: The Wagoneer and Gladiator


The ’54 wagons and pickups were first to benefit from the Kaiser buyout. The 115hp 226ci Continental Red Seal became an option in the 4x2 and 4x4. The Willys sixes were discontinued and no wonder: Continental Motors was another of Kaiser's holdings. Dubbed "Super Hurricane" in Jeeps, it was an easy adaptation and gave the Willy utilities more-than-adequate power. From 1962 to the end of 1965, the OHC Tornado engine was offered in them as well, and that made for a very snappy old-timer.

The old and the new—or at least the first version of the new that came in 1959—are the very dated looking Jeep wagon next to the J-100 Malibu prototype. The name "Wagoneer" hadn't been proposed yet. The Malibu was a nice looking rig overall, and so was another idea called the Berkeley.

This was the winning combination for 1963: four doors, car-like stance, Jeep-like aura, station wagon interior, and optional four-wheel drive. There were two trim levels: Base and Custom. This ’63 Parkway Green Wagoneer Custom 4x4 had a standard three-speed manual, but an automatic was optional. If you ordered the Borg-Warner AS-8W slushbox to mid 1965, it came only with a single-speed Spicer 21 transfer case. The manuals used a Spicer 20 two-speed unit.


By the late ’50s, Jeep wagons and trucks were "stylistically challenged." Plus, the big boys were on the move. Dodge and GM had introduced 4x4 utilities and pickups based on their civilian lines, and Ford was poised to do so as well. International had just started work on a new rig that would eventually be called Scout. The 4x4 imports from Toyota, Nissan, and Land Rover were also starting to come in. Jeep needed a home run to stay in the limelight.

Development of the J-100 station wagon had started in 1958, and by November 1962, the Jeep Wagoneer debuted. It was just the right rig at just the right time and Jeep knocked it out of the park. Offered with either two or four doors and in two- or four-wheel drive, it was the most car-like utility vehicle yet offered and just what the market wanted. A panel version was also available. The Custom trim-package offered features comparable to a middle-trim station wagon of the era, including automatic trans, air, and power steering. These rigs were soon dubbed SJ, which stood for Senior Jeep.

Debuting at the same time was the all-new Gladiator truck line. The Gladiators were up-to-date trucks, ranging from short-wheelbase light 1/2-ton to 1-ton dualie. They had all the right trim and options to compete in the market and were a major upswing for Jeep. Even the 4x4s were available with comfort and convenience features never before seen in Jeep trucks. For whatever reason, limited production of the old Jeep wagon and pickup continued into 1964, but it took until the end of 1965 to get them all sold.


Seldom seen today are the J-100 Panel Delivery models. This is a base, two-wheel drive model, but they could be ordered in four-wheel-drive and with a few deluxe features. Instead of a tailgate, they had side-opening doors. A special Parkway Conversion added the rear fixed side-windows. The Panel lasted into the ’68 model year, when it was retired along with the slow-selling two-door Wagoneers.

The Gladiator was a ground-up development that stylistically matched the J-100 Wagoneer. There were two styles: the Townside (top) and the Thriftside (bottom). The J-200 (top) was on a 120-inch wheelbase and came in four GVWRs from 4,000 to 8,600 pounds. The J-300 sat on a 126-inch wheelbase and came in four wheelbases with a 5,000 to 8,600-pound GVWR. They came in two- or four-wheel-drive, and you see one of each here. The Thriftside was optional only through 1968. A dualie was offered in both model lines.


Kaiser Jeep set some benchmarks with the introduction of the Wagoneer and Gladiators. One was the introduction of the Tornado overhead-cam six. While initially problematic, it was a powerful six and the first American OHC engine since the Duesenberg in the ’20s. Also optional in both rigs was independent four-wheel-drive front suspension—the Wagoneer with a Spicer 27 differential and the Gladiator with a Dana 44. Both were industry firsts but could have used a little more research and development. Along with these technical faux pas firsts, the lack of a V-8 option would blunt the impact of the Wagoneer and Gladiator.

The SJ lines stepped ahead in ’65, with a mid-year makeover. The ’65.5s offered AMC’s 327ci V-8, which Jeep renamed Vigilante. With it came a new automatic (the burly GM TH-400), and a new OHV 232ci six from AMC, called the "Hi-Torque," replaced the Tornado. Styling changes also came, highlighted by a full-width bright grille on the Wagoneer only.

During the ’65.5 to ’70 model years, the Wagoneers and Gladiators evolved in many ways, mostly to move them upmarket. AMC discontinued the 327 in ’67, so during the ’68 to ’70 model years, the Wagoneer and Gladiator V-8s used Buick 350ci two-barrel-carb engines called the Dauntless V-8. This engine shared architecture with the Buick-derived Dauntless V-6 used in the CJ and Jeepster Commando. At one point, Jeep tested the 225ci V-6 in the Wagoneers and Gladiators as a logical consolidation. It isn't clear why this good idea wasn't pursued, but speculation has long been it was because of the rough-idle characteristics of the odd-fire V-6s.

Industry First: Super Wagoneer


The Super Wagoneer was the world's first luxury sport utility. It came equipped with a unique high-grade interior and a console shifter for the automatic transmission. Power steering and brakes were standard, as was air conditioning, power rear window, tilt steering wheel, radio, automatic trans, and a four-barrel-carb 270hp version of the 327 Vigilante V-8. On the outside, the Super came in a choice of four special colors, had special basket-weave side trim, a black vinyl roof, roof rack, and some snazzy spinner-style hubcaps that look very Corvette.

The closest thing to a high-performance engine Jeep had in the Kaiser era was the AMC four-barrel-carb 327ci V-8. It was based on a 250ci engine developed in 1956 for the Nash Ambassador. It grew to 327ci for a special hot-rod Rambler Rebel in 1957, and the 250 evolved to a 287ci in standard Ramblers for the ’63 model year. AMC was in the midst of introducing a new V-8 in '65, but still had the old 327 in production. The standard two-barrel-carb version used in most Jeeps made 250 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque with an 8.7:12 compression ratio. The Super Wagoneer got the 9.7:1 compression ratio and a four-barrel-carb that made 270 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque.


The ’66 model year heralded another Jeep claim to fame: the introduction of the industry's first luxury 4x4 utility. In development since 1964, the Super Wagoneer (a.k.a. Super Custom, model 1414D) was a limited production, full-boat edition of the Wagoneer. The Super Wagoneer continued through ’69 as an advertised model, but in with the ’70 and ’71 model years, an almost identical version was sold as the Wagoneer Super Custom 1414X. It could be found in the price and data books, but you didn't see it advertised much. It isn't clear if the 1414X was actually produced in these two final years or were retitled leftovers. Because they still had the Buick 350s in the ’71s after the changeover to the AMC V8s, the latter is suspected.

Commercials: FJ and DJ


The FJ-3A was the left-hand-drive commercial version of the Jeep Fleetvan. Built on a modified DJ-3A chassis, it was powered by an F-head. The post office FJ-3 version was more common. Only 831 of the FJ-3A were built for the ’61 and ’62 model year. A total of 8,026 of the PO version were built from 1960 to 1965.


Willys Motors had a commercial side, and after Studebaker died in '64, Kaiser purchased the South Bend, Indiana, plant and moved military, government, and some commercial production there. That division eventually morphed into AM General, but that was more than a decade in the future. The DJ line (emasculated 4x2 CJs) was popular as compact delivery or postal vehicles. In the Kaiser era, DJs were seen in both the flatfender (DJ-3A) and roundfender (DJ-5 and DJ-6) lines. Jeep's first really big DJ deal came from the USPS in 1968, and the success of the DJ-5 Postal cemented them as a primary go-to for postal services. The FJ, or Fleetvan, started off in 1960 as a cube van of modest dimension based on a DJ chassis. It came as both a commercial (FJ-3A, left-hand drive) and postal (FJ-3 right-hand drive) model and was built until the ’65 model year. The larger and more successful FJ-6 followed, and a succession of similar rigs was built for many years.

Stylin': Jeepster Commando


The 8705 Roadster was the base configuration of the Jeepster Commando, which went on sale for 1967. It was built topless and the dealer installed the soft top. The base engine was an F-Head four, but the new 225ci V-6 was optional, as was a TH-400 automatic. Standard behind the V-6 was the new T-14 three-speed, which was similar to the old T-90, but with a higher torque rating and different ratios.

Top of the C-101 line was the 8701 Convertible, the first true convertible Jeep ever made and one of only two convertible Jeep models ever made. It was a looker but expensive. The sales numbers (2,885 total built from late 1966 into 1969) didn’t justify keeping it in production. It was replaced in ’68 by a less ostentatious model and called the 8702 “austere” convertible. In '67, this rig was $438 more than the Station Wagon (about $3,100 2016 money) and $720 more than a base Roadster. For the ’68 model, the austere model was only about $100 more than the wagon.


As the 4x4 utility market demanded more style and comfort, Jeep responded with the Jeepster Commando for ’67. Called the C-101, it harkened back to the late ’40s Jeepster VJ but with modern conveniences and performance. Optionally powered by the new 225ci V-6, it added the sportiness the old Jeepster was sorely lacking. This rig was the first time Jeep used the term "Sport Utility." Three years in development, the C-101 was offered as a station wagon (8705F), convertible (8701), soft-top roadster (8705), and pickup (8705F). The 8702 convertible began replacing the 8701 in 1968. The station wagon proved the most popular through its ’67 to ’71 model-year run, and about 48,000 C-101s were built.

Still Green: Kaiser Era Military Jeeps


As the FC faded in the early ’60s, military versions were produced for the USMC. In 1963 and 1964, a pickup (M-676), four-door crew-cab pickup (M-677), carryall van (M-678), and ambulance (M-679) were built in small numbers. They were standard FCs in most ways, though with military accoutrements and one big change: a three-cylinder diesel engine. The Cerlist three-cylinder two-stroke diesel (170ci, 85hp) was chosen to satisfy the Marines' diesel requirement. Only a few thousand were built. They weren't a technical flop; just not needed at the time. This one belongs to Fred Williams, a longtime editor at 4-Wheel & Off-Road.

The average GI gearhead was ho-hum about the M-715, most preferring the Dodge M-37. The military was also kind of ho-hum but for a good reason. The Army was in a transportation transition, one that would lead to the HUMVEE in the early ’80s. At this time, they were looking for bottom-dollar commercially available trucks for non-tactical duties so they could save the expensive tactical stuff for combat. In this era, the expensive and highly complex M-561 Gamma Goat was the tactical rig. The M-715 was a bridge rig: a little commercial and a little tactical. The Gamma-Goat didn't work well, and the military moved on with other ideas, replacing both the Gama-Goat and the M-715.


When Kaiser Jeep bought the South Bend, Indiana, Studebaker Plant in 1964, they turned it into the Defense and Government Products Division, assumed a Studebaker contract for military 6x6 trucks, and worked hard to keep the plant going with new contracts. Most of the military contracts after about 1964 came through the South Bend team, and many didn't involve building Jeeps. The Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, played a part by continuing to build certain products like the M-38A1 and M-170, export military versions of the CJ-3B (called the M-606) and militarized CJ-5s (called the M-606A2 and A3). When the military looked for a low-cost replacement for the venerable Dodge M-37 tactical truck, Jeep stepped up with a mil-spec Gladiator prototype, and in March 1966, the company successfully bid on a 20,000-unit contract (eventually upped to more than 30,000). Called the M-715, it was based on the civilian Gladiator but with many modifications. It came as the M-715 personnel/cargo truck, utility-bodied M-726, and M-725 ambulance. The front wrap wore Gladiator sheetmetal, but the cab roof was replaced with canvas and a fold-down windshield. The “civvy” bed was replaced with a heavy-duty box with troop seats. The drivetrain featured a closed-knuckle Dana 60 front, Dana 70 rear, T-98 four-speed transmission, and divorced NP-200 transfer-case. The engine was a revised low-compression version of the 230ci OHC Tornado. Production ran from January 1966 to May 1969, and about 30,000 were built.

Kaiser Bows Out


The 225ci Dauntless V-6 debuted as a 155hp single-barrel-carb engine in the '66 CJs. By the next year, it acquired a two-barrel carb and appeared in the new Jeepster Commando. The engine originated at GM's Buick Division in 1961 (as a 198ci) and was in a number of midsized Buicks through 1967. With 160hp ('67-up two-barrel), it gave the CJ some suds and only weighed a few pounds more than the F-head four. In the Jeepster Commando (shown) it was equally spirited. This engine and its 231ci Buick progeny were once the most popular Jeep engine-swap. After the AMC buyout in 1970, the engine reverted back to Buick, just in time for the gas crunch of the ’70s, and descendents of this engine were still in production until very recently.


By the late ’60s, Jeep was still doing OK, but Henry J. needed money for new projects and had tired of the car game. AMC came along looking to bolster its market share and acquired the whole Kaiser Jeep shebang. You can read all about it in Part 5 of our 75 Years of Jeep series next month.

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results